Local World War II veteran remembers D-Day 75 years later
The Museum at Five Points in Cleveland had a History Happy Hour to commemorate D-Day Thursday evening, including a speech from a WWII soldier.
Ralph Painter was in the back of the first tank that hit the shores of Utah Beach 75 years ago.
He remembers every little detail of one of the most violent days in history.
"I've tried two or three times to write something about it, you know, so the grand kids would know about it. But, I have nightmares so bad I can't do it. I just saw so much,” Painter said.
The nightmares of that day are in his head constantly.
"We were the first vehicles on the beach. Two tanks. There was dead people laying everywhere. We almost froze to death. I'm a 100% disabled veteran because I have frostbite,” Painter said.
But those aren't the only tough memories.
In April of 1944, he'd been caught in the middle of Operation Tiger, a training operation for D-Day that went terribly wrong. The massacre was withheld from the public for over four decades.
"And the U-boats came in and they killed about 860 sailors. They burned up in their ships. They were in the Atlantic,” Painter said.
Painter also saw action in the Battle of the Bulge, the deadliest single battle in United States history.
The fighting in Belgium was waged in minus 20 degree weather.
After all he experienced in 1944 and 1945, he was just ready to go.
"Well, they asked me if I wanted to put in for disability. I said 'no, I just want to get home,” Painter said.
Back stateside, Painter worked for TVA as an engineer for more than 30 years.
Only 20 of the men in his battalion are still alive.
He says he never planned on going back to the historic battle grounds and the past is in the past.
"But I didn't want to go back over there. I get sea sick and I hate flying,” Painter said.
Even though, mentally, it's been a difficult road for him, he wants his family to always know he would do it all over again.
“I want them to think about me and what I did was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Painter said.
He turned 97 on Tuesday.
He also told Channel 3, he went to his high school reunion last week and was the only one left in his graduating class.
He says his former lieutenant still sends them newsletters.